Like a kid at recess, Case Keenum was the right guy to lead Vikings’ last drive

MINNEAPOLIS — While much was made this week about Case Keenum’s lack of playoff experience, he’d lived out the scenario at the end of Sunday’s game many times — on the lawn of his childhood home.

“Being a kid growing up, that’s what you do in the backyard,” Keenum said. “Thirty seconds to go, you’re down by two, fourth quarter, playoffs, Drew Brees is the quarterback of the other team. That’s what you dream about.”

And Keenum delivered a dream finish.

While Stefon Diggs will get, and deserves, much of the credit for Sunday’s game-winning 61-yard touchdown catch as time expired to lift the Minnesota Vikings past the New Orleans Saints and into the NFC Championship Game, Keenum deserves credit for giving him a chance. That’s what the Vikings’ quarterback does.

“He makes things happen, he creates opportunities for receivers to make things happen, and that’s all you can ask for in a quarterback,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “All you can ask for as a receiver is an opportunity.”

Kye Rudolph said Keenum “has that kind of recess, street-ball style back there. He extends plays with his legs, he makes huge throws and in that situation there, that’s just giving a guy a chance.”

So, late in a game, with limited chance of success where all you can do is chuck it and pray, that’s where Keenum thrives. Schoolyard Keenum plays with no fear.

“There’s no nerves at that point. We’re fighting and clawing and scratching, just trying to get the ball up the field,” Keenum said. “Most of those guys had running down the field in two-minute mode, so they’re all just trying to get their breath back. I wouldn’t say there’s nerves at that point, you’re just — you’re doing everything you can to win the game.”

After they won it, with Keenum hitting Diggs for the deciding score, the quarterback was running around looking for someone to hug with a smile on his face that resembled that of a schoolboy. He admitted his recess style might make him more comfortable in those late game spots than others. He described the game-winning score by saying he “just threw it,” and Diggs, “just caught it.”

“When you’re that tired and it’s that late and you’re just fighting and clawing like I said, it’s a reaction,” he said. “I was just like, let’s just go react and play. Let’s just play. At that point, you’re just a kid throwing a football to another big kid, and he just runs and scores.”

Still, that recess style isn’t always good. Keenum attributed that same mentality to his second-half interception that let the Saints back into the game. “Bonehead play,” he said.

The play I threw the pick on, I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to,” he said. “There’s a fine line that you have to walk — taking chances, giving guys chances, but also being smart with the football.”

Street-ball Keenum has given Vikings fans, and head coach Mike Zimmer, anxious moments throughout this season, but he’s also delivered some magical moments, none bigger than Sunday’s miracle finish. Asked about what he said to his teammates prior to the final drive, Keenum said, ” ‘Hey, let’s take a shot at this. You never know, you never know.’ “

A shot — Keenum will always give you that, too. Zimmer said earlier this year that Keenum was playing with “a horseshoe,” indicating a little luck might have played into the quarterback’s success.

Jerrick McKinnon isn’t so sure about that.

“I done see that man make a lot of crazy plays this year. A lot of crazy good plays, man,” he said. “I wouldn’t even call it luck, because I know how hard he works. You see him extending plays, there’s nothing lucky about extending plays, that’s just heart and will. That man right there is a fighter, dog, and I’m glad to have him on my team.”